This review is dedicated to the amazing Timothy Omundson, who I first saw here and who almost made this film great.
Kyle Johnson (Ryan Merriman) is a high-schooler who is supernaturally lucky. His love interest Bonnie (Alexis Lopez), the head of the Heritage Committee, asks him about his family lineage. His parents, Bobby and Kathleen (Paul Kiernan, Marita Geraghty) both claim they’re from Cleveland, acting very suspiciously, and refuse to explain anything further. On the way home from basketball practice with his best friend Russell (Glenndon Chatman), he sees the symbol on his lucky coin advertising an Irish festival. He attends, meeting a strange old man (Henry Gibson), and watching a performance by Seamus McTiernan (Timothy Omundson), an irish folk dancer. He gets knocked down at the festival, but thinks nothing of it.
The next morning, Kyle finds his luck has soured, his mom has a pronounced Irish accent, and he’s shorter and uncoordinated. The day goes horribly, including Kyle almost costing his Basketball team the semi-finals. The day after that, he finds that he’s even shorter, is growing red hair, and that his lucky coin has been replaced by a fake. He goes home to find that his mother is now only a few inches tall. It turns out that she’s a leprechaun, making Kyle half leprechaun. As long as they had their coin, then all of his clan, the clan O’Reilly, could appear human.
Kyle’s mom says that the old man he saw at the fair was her father, Reilly O’Reilly, owner of a local factory. Reilly didn’t agree to his daughter marrying a human, so he had cut her off from the rest of the family. Kyle goes to meet with his grandfather, who reveals that the person who stole the coin was likely Seamus McTiernan, a Far darrig, or an evil leprechaun. Reilly, Russell, Bonnie, and the Johnsons all go to find McTiernan, who leads them on a car chase and escapes using corned beef and cabbage (it makes sense in context).
Eventually, they catch up to Seamus and Kyle gets his luck back, but Reilly is captured. Knowing a Far darrig cannot resist a bet, Kyle wagers the coin in a contest, saying he can beat Seamus at “sports.” Using his wording against him, Seamus challenges Kyle to the ancient Tailteann Games, most of which Kyle can’t physically win. Through a combination of luck and the fact that magical judges apparently like breakdancing, Kyle ties, but Seamus points out that since Kyle didn’t “beat” him, Seamus won the bet. Kyle wagers his freedom against the coin and his grandfather, saying that he can beat Seamus at basketball even without luck. Russell and Kyle are transported to the basketball finals and find themselves playing against Seamus and his crew. Kyle manages to win and, through clever wording, banishes Seamus to the shores of Lake Erie. He gets his luck back and performs an Irish dance at the heritage festival, before he and Bonnie lead the crowd in a chorus of “This Land Is Your Land.”
I selected this film, rather than Darby O’Gill and the Little People, mostly because I realized the other day that this was the first movie I saw featuring Timothy Omundson, one of the most underrated actors working today. For years, I have had the image of him shouting “I am the Saint of the Step” in my head whenever I see him, even though I’ve since seen him in better roles, because somehow he really stood out in this film despite his limited screen time and generic villain status. Also, I love his car-chase expressions.
However, what I had apparently forgotten over the years is how very dated this film was. This movie came out in early 2001 and it is an interesting combination of patriotic “rah rah, America!” and globalist “immigrants are all Americans” that didn’t exactly continue after 9/11. Much of the film is about celebrating heritage while also celebrating America as the Land of Opportunity. Both Bonnie and Kyle make speeches about it, and not much is said about some of the downsides of America, aside from that “things used to be rough for immigrants.” At one point, in a moment that I had completely forgotten, Bonnie says that when they got here they Irish were paid far less than their labor is worth, only for Russell, an African-American, to say “AT LEAST THEY GOT PAID,” which is summarily ignored in favor of talking about the beauty of the American Dream. Like I said, it represents the last months of a distinct time period.
I don’t know whether or not this movie is offensive to Irish people, since I’m only of Irish descent, but I admit that it’s a little weird that the film indicates that accents, dancing, and flute playing are genetic. I guess that might only be for Leprechauns, though. That is also among the long list of things that turn out to be quite odd and yet completely accepted by the characters. For example, while Leprechauns exist, we don’t really get an idea that they have any magical powers beyond “lucky” only for us to quickly be shown that at least Seamus is capable of all sorts of insane magics. Despite how sudden the reveal that “oh, hey, Leprechauns have magic” is, not a single character really responds by asking if Kyle has any powers. If the O’Reilly Clan’s sole benefit is that they’re lucky, that’s not bad, but I feel like they only touched the surface of this mythology. They did, however, get that the fae love wordplay and will always honor a deal to the letter, not the spirit.
However, the performances in the movie manage to make it charming despite the seemingly meandering plot. Ryan Merriman gave a solid performance in both this and Smart House, even though his character tends to be a little forgettable. Henry Gibson is just naturally hilarious from his years on Laugh-in and he had previously played a leprechaun on Bewitched. Then there’s Omundson. Despite the fact that his lines are nothing short of terrible at many points, he delivers them so sincerely that they come off as just a megalomaniac who genuinely believes he’s infallible. It helps that when Merriman or Gibson or Chatman says something extremely unusual in response, Omundson genuinely looks confused or annoyed by it. Acting is reacting, people.
Overall, I still have a soft spot for this movie. If you have Disney+, give it a try.
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